E was six years old. She is our second child. We were in Kohl’s trying to find her some pants. It was always a challenge. The pants that were the right length were almost always too big around the waist. We needed to try on several pairs.
There was only a single dressing room in the girl’s section of the store. I sent E in with a selection of pants of various sizes to try on. I also had our two youngest children with me in a double stroller.
Mom was at a birthday party with our oldest.
Another mother was looking for clothes for her daughter. She eyed me wearily and did her best to subtly keep her five or six-year-old near her and away from me.
E came out and showed me a pair of pants. We looked at the fit and decided if each pair was a keeper or a put-back.
The mother got in line behind me at the dressing room. She had a stack of clothes she needed her princess to try on.
After E came out for the second time, the woman sighed loudly.
I ignored her.
After E came out for the third time, the woman said, “You know you can just buy her pants that are the same size as her age they should fit.”
“Thanks” I replied. “But, that never doesn’t work for her.”
I then detailed E’s issues with pants.
I smiled. She did not smile back.
The woman sighed again and tapped her foot loudly on the floor.
E came out for the fourth and last time.
“Where’s her mother?” The woman said with a scowl. She had one hand on her hip, and she pointed at my daughter with her long judgmental finger.
“Her mom is no longer with us,” I said.
The woman turned red and mumbled an apology.
Once E went back in to change into her own clothes, the woman and her princess left.
E and I went and bought her the pants that fit and went back to meet up with Mom and K.
When I told my wife the story, she was amused but wanted to make sure that we left the area in case we ran into the woman.
I figured I had nothing to be embarrassed about. I didn’t lie. My wife had been with us, but she went to the birthday and was no longer with us. Now she was back with us.
Moms Can’t Win — Dads Barely Have to Try
The woman at Kohl’s shared an attitude I have often run into as I have been the primary caretaker of our children for the past several years. I have a flexible schedule. My wife does not. That’s just our life.
When people see me doing “mom” things with the kids, it must mean their mother has abandoned her true maternal duties. They say surprisingly cruel things to me about how great it is that I’m stepping up even though mom can’t be there. The implication is that the children’s mom must be making a selfish or lazy choice.
I get comments like these from complete strangers. My wife is the most fantastic mom on the planet. She loves our children and sacrifices for them every day. Our children know how much their mom loves them. They don’t feel abandoned by her. She is a major part of their lives. Our children are fortunate to have two parents that love and cherish them. Their mom is always at all of the important events and is around for all of the small moments that make life worth living. But, our family is different from the “standard” model.
People assume that I’m some kind of super dad when I’m out in public with our four children because they are all dressed appropriately, look relatively clean, and aren’t running amok in the parking lot.
I get told a lot by strangers that I’m an amazing dad, even though all I’m doing is the bare minimum. I’m taking care of my children. That’s what parents do.
These people also assume I’m either a widower or the children’s mother is an addict or deviant who can’t do what moms are supposed to do.
But, when my wife is out with our four children, she isn’t told what a great mother she is. The bar is too high. She is more likely to get comments on the number of children we have.
“Are all these your?” People ask.
Why the Judgment?
Parenting is hard. Life is complicated.
Why do we spend so much time in our society judging each other’s parenting skills?
The mommy wars are damaging to men, women, and children. They lionize toxic masculinity. As a society, we would be better off with a much higher bar for what we consider a good father to be and a much lower bar for what constitutes a good mother.
The true test should be, do parents love their children? Do their children feel safe with their parents? Do their children feel loved?
That’s it. Each family circumstance is different we don’t need to worry about the amount of candy other children eat or if some other family puts a child in a front-facing car seat too soon.
Because parenting can be such a difficult slog at times, it’s often easier to look down at other parents so we can feel good about our efforts — even though deep down we are scared to death that we are going to screw our kids up forever.
As I have sat in waiting rooms at doctor’s offices, in dance studios, and outside of department store changing rooms, I have overheard a lot of conversations about mothers. The overall tone from both men and women towards moms is harsh. Most people are quick to condemn the mom whose child is running and hiding amongst the racks of clothes. But, the rare father with the wild child always gets a pass.
The conversations never turn to what a great job some mom is doing. It’s always about things that the mom could or should be doing differently if only they knew better. If the conversation ever turns to fathers, there are only two kinds. Great dads and deadbeat dads. If the dad has ever touched a diaper in his life, he’s a good dad.
Parenting shouldn’t be a gendered issue. Men are capable of compassion, patience, and cleaning up bodily fluids. Women are capable of being tough, determined, and disciplining children.
The most important thing my children have taught me is that they are always watching me. They know when I’m being a hypocrite. Now that K and E are in middle school, they aren’t shy about calling me out on my bullshit.
How can we teach our children to love others when all they hear us do is judge and criticize others?
If we want to end the cycle of hate in our society, we have to start by modeling grace for our children. We have to show we love the strangers we meet — and not critique their parenting behind their back.
Until we end the mommy wars, we will never be able to fully overcome toxic masculinity. Until we teach love through our actions, the next generation will soak up all of the bitter judgments they have heard us make about moms and they will carry those forward.
We need to be better to moms. How amazing would it be if more of us told random women out with their kids what great moms they are? What if we stopped judging and starting encouraging moms?
It might just change the world.
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